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Syria Culture, Geography and History
Culture and Customs of Syria
Modern day Syria is blessed with ancient, time-worn traditions and a culture that has been enriched over the centuries. Artistic traditions that have lasted for hundreds of years can be seen in the embroidered scarves of local women, the melodic music played in bars, the traditional food served and sold in the souqs and the ancient houses that still stand in antiquated glory. Although modernisation has come to Syria’s big cities in the way of infrastructure, the internet, mobile phones and foreign cuisine, this has largely not come at a cost to ancient traditions, which are still celebrated and revered by most of the population.
Most of Syrian society is quite conservative in that contact between women and men and public drunkenness is frowned upon by most. However, Syria’s attitude towards drinking alcohol and dress is generally considered to be less conservative than many other neighbouring countries.
The hallmark of Syrian culture is kind hospitality – a throwback to the ancient days of welcoming travelling strangers to share dinner and shelter while journeying through the desert. Visitors will be disarmed by the genuine welcome and hospitality that they receive when visiting Syria. Being invited into people’s shops and homes for tea, coffee or a meal is common, and it’s considered impolite to decline. With such a proud ancient culture expressed through traditional handicrafts, song, dance and clothing, getting to know the customs and folklore of Syria is a sensory and spiritual pleasure.
Geography and Environment of Syria
Syria is located in the south-western corner of Asia and shares borders with Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. Consisting mainly of mountains, steppe and desert, Syria’s landscapes are typically arid, except for the area around the Euphrates River which is more fertile. The Euphrates is truly the lifeblood of Syria, providing roughly 80% of the water used in the country (this is particularly significant for farming and cultivation). Although much of Syria is uninhabitable, many of Syria’s cities, like Damascus and Aleppo, have remained centres of antiquity for centuries. Many old buildings, mosques, churches, souqs, houses and shopfronts have been preserved and retained – something that will intrigue and delight travellers.
History and Government of Syria
Syria’s civilisation is one of the most ancient on earth and visitors will see many reminders of this when visiting the cities and ruins that have stood for centuries. Occupied by many different groups (including the Phoenicians, Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians and Romans), Syria has seen a variety of different cultures and religions come and go since 3000 BC. As an important stop on the overland trade route, Syria’s cities flourished as main trading centres until a sea trade route was discovered in the 15th century, thus eliminating the need to travel overland through Syria. Over the years, Syria was subjected to many attacks from foreign invaders keen on establishing a stronghold in this important territory, including the Mongols. From the 16th to the 20th century, Syria remained a part of the Ottoman Empire and enjoyed relative peace.
After World War I, the League of Nations divided the rule of Syria between the United Kingdom and France, but by 1920 France had complete rule of the territory. After many revolts, clashes and attempts at independence, Syria was finally granted its independence in 1946. What followed was a time of political instability, mainly caused by the fragility of Middle Eastern politics and surrounding countries during the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Ruled by Hafez al-Assad for more than three decades (from 1971-2000), Syria is currently ruled by his son, Bashar al-Assad.
Syria at a glance
- 22.5 million
- (GMT+02:00) Beirut
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